When Shintaro Kono first came to the University of Alberta, it was in a much different capacity. After completing his undergraduate degree in Physical Education-Sport and Leisure Management at Tokai University in Japan, and his Master’s in Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Shintaro joined the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation (KSR) as a PhD student where he spent four years pursuing the intrinsic connection between leisure and well-being.
Shintaro returns to the University of Alberta and KSR as an assistant professor in leisure studies. We sat down with Shintaro to learn more about his academic journey to-date, and what he will bring to KSR in the capacity of teacher and researcher.
What originally brought you to the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation for you PhD?
Gordon Walker (former KSR professor and now KSR Professor Emeritus). Toward the end of my Master’s program, I was searching potential Ph.D. supervisors and his research on leisure, well-being, and culture stood out to me. I had a meeting with my supervisor and mentor back then (who happened to work with Gordon closely) and they thought that he would be a great fit for me. The only thing I was not sure about as it pertains to KSR and U of A was the cold weather. Gordon invited me to visit the campus, city, and people here during an American Thanksgiving week, which made me think that I could survive the winter in Edmonton. Of course, I met my future colleagues and friends then, too.
What impact did your PhD supervisor Gordon Walker have on your career?
I learned many things about research, teaching, and beyond from Gordon. One thing that really stands out is his extremely high level of integrity. He always said, “Let’s get this right.” He would plan research meticulously, collect and analyze data carefully, and write papers eloquently. I learned that the outcomes you see are based on high quality work he does on a day-to-day basis. And that’s what makes a good researcher. And of course, he also had a really high level of productivity, too. I won’t forget the time when he and I revised and reduced my 400-page dissertation proposal into 100 pages over several weeks. He is also a phenomenal mentor for graduate students; he gives constructive feedback in a timely manner. In many ways, I try to exceed the standards he set; it’s not easy but I think I owe that to him.
Why have you chosen to pursue a career in academia?
Now that I reflect back, I told people that I want to “use my brain” in my future career when I was 10 years old or so. But, I have never really wanted to be an academic. I just simply enjoyed learning, reading, writing, collecting and analyzing data, presenting etc. Some people consider me a “workaholic,” but for the most part, I don’t quite feel like working; I am often having fun. This process of enjoying the academic works naturally led me to find a career in the academia.
Can you tell us a bit about your focus of research?
My research revolves around the topic of leisure and well-being. We have a good amount of evidence that leisure participation is positively related to well-being; in other words, the more leisure activities you do, the happier you are (to an extent). Now, what we don’t know much is the questions of “how” and “why.” Do all leisure activities automatically lead to well-being or are there any particular mechanisms that link these two phenomena? If so, what are those mechanisms? Why does a certain leisure activity or mechanism relate to well-being (and not others)? By answering these questions, we should be able to develop leisure and recreation programs that are more systematically conducive to well-being. That is, we can make people happier through theory-driven and evidence-based leisure services. My research also adds some cultural elements to this equation. The types of leisure activities and mechanisms that enhance people’s well-being may differ across cultures. Or, what people mean by “leisure” and “well-being” may even vary across cultures. My international experience really shapes this part of my research.
What has been your most proud and/or significant moment as a researcher to date?
As a Japanese, I don’t like to feel “proud of myself.” But, certainly, completing my dissertation research was a major accomplishment. So far, I have published three articles from it in Leisure Sciences and Journal of Happiness Studies. At least two more articles are coming up, too. The external examiner called my dissertation as “a significant contribution and disruptor of the conventional perspectives on wellbeing and the role leisure plays.” This meant a lot to me. I strive to do the research that pushes boundaries in our field.
What are you most looking forward to in your role with KSR as a teacher and researcher?
I look forward immersing myself again into KSR’s intellectual diversity. Our Faculty represents many different topics and disciplines, from sociocultural to neuroscience. Meeting colleagues and students who are interested in these various topics is one of my favorite things here. It sometimes gives me an idea I would never be able come up with, if I limited myself to my own disciplinary perspective.
What classes will you be teaching in 2019/2020 and what can students expect from you as an instructor?
In Fall 2019, I will be teaching RLS 100 - Life, Leisure, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is right on my research area, and I cannot become more excited about teaching it. The content will be directly applicable to every single student, because all of us enjoy leisure and want to be happy. The course is all about that. In Winter 2020, I will be teaching KIN 109 - Stats, Measurement, & Evaluation. I have taught a few statistical/research method courses so far. My goal is to make the course as applied and hands-on as possible. We will not only “read” stats, but also go to a field and use it in a practical setting.
Are you supervising any students at the moment?
Currently, I do not supervise any students. However, I am certainly open for the possibilities to work with motivated students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. I am currently applying and looking for a few grants to initiate research projects around leisure and well-being. So, if any students are interested in it, please feel free to contact me J
We’re excited to have you back, Shintaro!
I am excited to return to KSR as a faculty member. I am looking forward to interacting with many of you through research, teaching, and other activities!